[time-nuts] ADEV noise floor vs counter gate time

Dave Martindale dave.martindale at gmail.com
Tue Mar 17 21:26:55 EDT 2015

I believe I see the pattern.  As you figured out, you wouldn't expect a single 
period to be a multiple of 20 ns; you expect the length of (about) 90 periods 
to be an integer multiple of 50 ns, since that's what the counter actually 
measures.  Further, the measuring time isn't exactly 1 second, it is an 
integer number of periods of the input frequency that makes up at least 1 
second.  If the counting logic was all hardware, you would expect to capture 
either 90 or 91 cycles of the input, depending on whether the input frequency 
was slightly below or above 90 Hz respectively.

I built this table of your frequency data in Excel.  Math is 64-bit floating 
point, equivalent to about 16 decimal digits, so plenty accurate enough to 
simulate this counter:

Reading    Input Count TB Count      Rounded      Frequency    Interval
90.00006359    92    51111074.998    51111075 90.00006359    1.022221500
90.00007591    92    51111068.002    51111068 90.00007591    1.022221360
89.99999640    90    50000002.000    50000002 89.99999640    1.000000040
89.99998740    90    50000007.000    50000007 89.99998740    1.000000140
90.00006007    92    51111076.997    51111077 90.00006007    1.022221540
89.99996040    90    50000022.000    50000022 89.99996040    1.000000440
90.00008648    92    51111061.999    51111062 90.00008648    1.022221240
90.00008472    92    51111062.999    51111063 90.00008472    1.022221260
90.00011465    92    51111046.001    51111046 90.00011465    1.022220920
90.00014459    92    51111028.998    51111029 90.00014459    1.022220580

The first column is your data.  The second column is a guess about how many 
input cycles were captured.  The third column is the number of timebase cycles 
that have elapsed since the previous reading, based on the first two columns.  
I hand-tweaked the numbers in the second column until the number in the third 
column was within 0.003 of an integer.  The fact that I was always able to do 
this tells me that my guess is probably correct, and the small residual (which 
is a few parts in 1e-10) is due to the counter rounding the results to 10 
digits.  The 4th column is the result of rounding the previous column to the 
nearest integer.  This is what I believe is the actual number of counts the 
counter saw.  The 5th column is a fresh calculation of frequency, based on the 
integer number of input cycles in column 2 and the integer number of timebase 
cycles in column 4.  When the result is rounded to 10 digits, you can see it 
matches the 10 digits that the counter provided back in column 1.

Oddly, the counter never captured 91 input cycles.  If the input frequency was 
a little higher than 90 Hz, it always measured at 92 cycles, even though 91 
cycles was well more than 1 s since the previous reading.  I guess the 
microprocessor running the counter only checks periodically (e.g. every 20 ms) 
to see if the gate time has elapsed, and then latches the counts on the next 
active edge of the input signal.

So, I claim that with this small sample, at least, we recovered the exact 
number of 20 ns periods between samples, and the number of integer input 
cycles as well.  Also notice the 6th column.  This is the actual sample 
interval, based on the number of elapsed timebase counts.  Note that the 
sample period is *not* exactly 1 second, nor is it even close to a constant 
value, since some measurements are of 90 cycles while others are of 92 
cycles.  Does your ADEV calculation algorithm take into account the variable 
spacing of the input samples in time?  If it assumes they are regularly spaced 
(i.e. every 90 cycles) it may get confused by this variable-spacing data.

Now here is almost the same process applied to your period data:

Reading     Input Count  TB Count      Rounded         Period       Interval
0.01111107736    91    50555401.988    50555402 0.01111107736    1.011108040
0.01111110130    92    51111065.980    51111066 0.01111110130    1.022221320
0.01111110769    91    50555539.990    50555540 0.01111110769    1.011110800
0.01111110435    92    51111080.010    51111080 0.01111110435    1.022221600
0.01111110593    91    50555531.982    50555532 0.01111110593    1.011110640
0.01111110022    90    49999950.990    49999951 0.01111110022    0.999999020
0.01111114000    90    50000130.000    50000130 0.01111114000    1.000002600
0.01111110000    90    49999950.000    49999950 0.01111110000    0.999999000
0.01111110370    92    51111077.020    51111077 0.01111110370    1.022221540

Again, column 2 was hand-adjusted for each row to keep the third column close 
to an integer.  The residual errors here are larger, since the maximum 
rounding error of 0.5 in the last place is a larger change relative to a 
10-digit value of 11111111 than it is to a value of 90000000, but all are 
still within 0.02 of being an integer.  This time, the counter grabbed 
measurements after 90, 91, or 92 cycles.  Again, after rounding the timebase 
count to an integer and calculating a 10-digit period for display, the result 
always matched what the counter output.  Again, I think we know with high 
probability just how many input and timebase cycles were counted for each 

I adjusted column 2 by eye, while looking at the results of column 3, but that 
process could be automated pretty easily (just not in Excel).  As I tried 90, 
91, and 92 in sequence, there was always just one of those which gave a small 
residual error.

So I think your TF930 is making measurements and accurately converting them to 
frequency or period, with a +- 20 ns uncertainty for each measurement.  Since 
it is a time-stamping counter, the uncertainty in a 10 s or 100 s or 1000 s 
measurement time (assembled by external software) is still only 20 ns.  That's 
great, but to actually get that accuracy over a long measurement time, you 
will need to determine and add up the actual number of input counts and 
timebase counts.  And you will have to understand that the counter does not 
make measurements at constant or near-constant intervals (e.g. every 90 cycles 
of input, without exception).  It gives you measurements whenever it gets 
around to measuring them.

Too bad there doesn't seem to be a way to get it to return the raw observed 
data (input cycle count, timebase cycle count) instead of the frequency or 
period derived from them.  That would make it trivial to string together a 
bunch of 1s measurements into arbitrarily long gate times.

- Dave

On 17/03/2015 05:57, jpbridge at aol.com wrote:
> Hi Dave,
> Thank you for your detailed response.
> I use the E? command because it returns results at the gate time intervals 
> rather than at the LCD update rate (as you point out). I think that this is 
> working correctly because I get very different file sizes.
> The numbers are returned as strings of 10 digits - here are some for 1 
> second gate:
> 90.00006359e+0Hz
> 90.00007591e+0Hz
> 89.99999640e+0Hz
> 89.99998740e+0Hz
> 90.00006007e+0Hz
> 89.99996040e+0Hz
> 90.00008648e+0Hz
> 90.00008472e+0Hz
> 90.00011465e+0Hz
> 90.00014459e+0Hz
> I generally use the frequency mode but I also tried time period and found I 
> got the same curve in essence, which was comforting in a way but showed it 
> wasn't rounding in converting to frequency.
> The numbers above, on my calculator at least don't exactly match counts of 
> 20 nanosecs.
> Here are some time period results:
> 11.11107736e-3s
> 11.11110130e-3s
> 11.11110769e-3s
> 11.11110435e-3s
> 11.11110593e-3s
> 11.11110022e-3s
> 11.11114000e-3s
> 11.11110000e-3s
> 11.11110370e-3s
> Again they don't seem to be integer values of 20 nanosec exactly, though 
> quite close. For example
> 11.11107736E-3/20E-9 = 555,553.868
> 555,554 x 20E-9 = 11.11108E-3
> But I guess what it returns is the ratio of counts within the gate. So 
> 11.11107736E-3 period will occur
> 90 times in a second (as it is slightly short) and so I should take the ratio:
> 90 x 11.11107736E-3/20e-9 = 49,999,848.12
> so still not quite an integer but if I assume the count (of 50MHz periods) 
> was 49,999,848 and calculate one 90 th of it I get:
> 49,999,848 x 20E-9/90 = 1.1111077333333
> Still not exact agreement. I note that .12 is very close to .125 or 1/8 but 
> I don't know if that is significant.
> It is probable that it rounds the ratio in binary and then converts to 
> decimal to print out.
> I've tried assuming 89 periods and 91 periods but still don't get exact 
> integer ratios.
> Anyway, as I get good agreement between period and frequency measurements at 
> 1 sec, I don't think that it is a rounding issue.
> I do think it is a quantization issue down to the +/- 20 nanosecs/gate time 
> but I can't quite work it out.
> I'm currently doing a run at 0.3 secs gate time and I'll see what sort of 
> curve that produces.
> Tomorrow I should receive my new Tek counter (I went for the fca3100 in the 
> end as I got a very good discount on an ex demo unit) and that should give 
> something to compare (once I've worked out how to program it).
> James
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Dave Martindale <dave.martindale at gmail.com>
> To: jpbridge <jpbridge at aol.com>; Discussion of precise time and frequency 
> measurement <time-nuts at febo.com>
> Sent: Tue, 17 Mar 2015 0:27
> Subject: Re: [time-nuts] ADEV noise floor vs counter gate time
> How is the counter configured?  Are you reading period or frequency?  Are 
> you in "E?" (Every Result) mode, or "C?" (Continuous Result) mode?  The 
> former should give you continuous but independent measurements, while the 
> latter gives heavily overlapped measurements.  (For example, with a 100 
> second gate time, you get one E output every 100 seconds, which covers a 
> different 100-second period than the previous measurement.  In C mode, you 
> get one output every 2 seconds, each of which is an estimate from 100 
> seconds of measurement, but 98 seconds of that data was also part of the 
> previous output and only 2 seconds of new data is included).
> What does the data returned by the counter actually look like?  The manual 
> implies that you always get 10 digits worth of result (not including the 
> exponent) regardless of gate time, but are the values rounded for display in 
> 7, 8, or 9 digits at the shorter gate times, or are they a full 10 digits 
> always?  Given any particular value of frequency or period you get, you 
> should be able to reverse-calculate the number of whole cycles of the input 
> signal that the counter used as a gate time, and the number of cycles of 50 
> MHz timebase that were counted in that period.  Since the counter doesn't 
> have interpolators, both of these values should be integers, and so the 
> possible output values are a small subset of all possible 10-digit values 
> for the shorter gate times.
> For example, if the difference frequency is exactly 90 Hz, the period 
> between two "1 second" measurements will be exactly 1 second, and the 
> counter will record 90 cycles of input and 5e7 cycles of timebase, exactly.  
> In frequency mode, the output should be 90.0 Hz exactly, and in period mode 
> the output should be 11.11111111 ms. Now suppose that the difference 
> frequency is just a hair slow, enough that 90 cycles of input spans 
> 50,000,001 counts of the timebase.  The reported frequency should be 
> 89.99999820 Hz and the reported period should be 11.11111133 ms.  With a 1 s 
> gate time, no values between those are possible unless the values are being 
> rounded (or there is an error in the calculation, which is always 
> possible).  Looked at another way, the smallest possible change in the 
> reported period is one timebase clock (20 ns) divided by the number of input 
> cycles in one gate time (90 for 1 s).
> If the counter is rounding, you may be able to unambiguously figure out what 
> the actual inputs (cycles of input and cycles of timebase) to the 
> calculation were, and use that instead of the rounded value in your 
> calculations.  Rounding may round up or down, but if the two oscillators are 
> stable enough the direction can be predominantly "up" or "down" for long 
> periods of time, adding a bias to the actual frequency or period you're 
> measuring.  (I don't know what effect this bias would have on ADEV).
> - Dave
> On Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 10:15 AM, James via time-nuts <time-nuts at febo.com> 
> wrote:
>     Hi All,
>     I'm in the process of getting a better counter, but at present I'm using
>     my TTi TF930 counter.
>     For those who don't know it, it is a reciprocal counter which should be
>     continuous, it counts periods in terms of its internal 50MHz clock which
>     I've locked to an external 10MHz reference.
>     There are 4 gate times available, 0.3 secs, 1 sec, 10 secs and 100 secs.
>     These correspond to 7, 8, 9 and 10 digits.
>     I've been experimenting with using a single mixer (mini circuits ZAD+)
>     along with a 1MHz low pass filter and appropriate attenuators to measure
>     Alan Deviation (using my own software).
>     My set up is a 10MHz reference source (MV89A which I've approximately
>     set using a 10kHz GPS signal).
>     The reference is used as the external reference for an Agilent 33522A
>     arbitrary waveform generator.
>     The 33522A generates an 9.999910 MHz (10MHz - 90Hz) sine wave at 300mVpp
>     to the mixer and the mixer is also fed by the 10MHz reference output of
>     the 33522A via an attenuator to get it to roughly the same level.
>     The second output of the 33522A generates a 10MHz square wave as a
>     reference for the counter (the counter requires quite a high reference
>     signal and the reference out of the 33522A is too low a voltage to be
>     used directly).
>     I initially ran this with a gate of 1 second and the LOG10(ADEV) curve
>     drops linearly vs LOG10(tau) but then curves back up again. (I tried
>     many variants such as using period rather than frequency and so on.)
>     But when I set the gate time to 10 seconds or 100 seconds then I get
>     both lower curves and ones that no longer curve upwards.
>     The attached pdf shows the three curves on the same graph.
>     What puzzles me is that the counter at longer gates is only averaging to
>     get more digits so the difference must come down to quantization in
>     terms of the number of digits that are passed to the computer over the
>     USB/RS232 link.
>     I find it rather puzzling.
>     James
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